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Zachariah Daniels v. M. D. Biter

IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA


September 18, 2012

ZACHARIAH DANIELS, PETITIONER,
v.
M. D. BITER, WARDEN, KERN VALLEY STATE PRISON, RESPONDENT.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: James K. Singleton, Jr. United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM DECISION

Zachariah Daniels, a state prisoner appearing pro se, filed a Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Daniels is currently in the custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, incarcerated at the Kern Valley State Prison. Respondent has answered, and Daniels has replied.

I. BACKGROUND/PRIOR PROCEEDINGS

While confined at the California State Prison, Solano ("CSP-Solano"),*fn1 Daniels was charged in a Rules Violation Report ("RVR") with Battery on Inmate with Use of a Weapon. In November 2008, after a disciplinary hearing before a Senior Hearing Officer ("SHO"), Daniels was found guilty of Battery on Inmate with Use of a Weapon, a Division A-1 offense. The SHO assessed a loss of 360 days of behavioral credit and referred the matter for program and custody review, SHO term assessment, transfer consideration, and privilege group reduction action. After exhausting his administrative remedies,*fn2 Daniels timely filed a petition for habeas relief in the Solano County Superior Court, which denied Daniels relief in an unreported, reasoned decision. Daniels' subsequent petition for habeas relief in the California Court of Appeal, First Appellate District, was summarily denied without opinion or citation to authority. The California Supreme Court also summarily denied Daniels' petition without opinion or citation to authority on November 17, 2010. Daniels timely filed his Petition for relief in this Court on January 25, 2011.

The RVR charged:

On 8/25/08, at approximately 0900 hours an Investigation was concluded concerning the stabbing assault of I/M CLAR, F-56799, by I/M O'NEAL, F-64041, that occurred on 6/19/08 at approx. 1000 hours in H-Dorm on Facility II (Refer to incident report #CSP-SF2-08-06-0191).

During the Investigation, first hand confidential information was received that identified Inmate Daniels, P-49740, as threatening to have I/M O'NEAL, F64041, assaulted if he didn't stab a white inmate on Facility II. The threat against O'NEAL occurred on June 19, 2008 at approx. 0900 hours adjacent to Housing Unit 9.*fn3 The decision of the SHO was based upon the following:

A. The CDCR 115 of August 25, 2008, wherein Correctional Lieutenant M. Melgoza states in part, "During the investigation, first hand confidential information was received that identified Inmate Daniels, P-49740 as threatening to have I/M O'neal [sic], F-64041, assaulted if he didn't stab a white inmate on Facility If." The SHO believes this to be evidence that Inmate Daniels threatened to have Inmate O'neal assaulted if he did not stab another inmate. The SHO believes that this prior knowledge or planning of the subsequent assault directly involved Inmate Daniels as a principle participant of the event.

B. The confidential memorandum dated August 25, 2008 and authored by Correctional Lieutenant M. Melgoza indicates that on June 19, 2008 at approximately 0900 hours, while adjacent to housing unit 9, Inmate Daniels P-497 40, threatened to have Inmate O'neal F-64041, assaulted if he did not stab a white inmate on Facility II. The SHO believes that this confidential memorandum is evidence that Inmate Daniels was a direct participant in the Battery on Inmate Clark, F-56799, in that he had prior knowledge of the event and threatened inmate O'neal in order to get him to carry out the assault. The SHO has reviewed the confidential memorandum involved in this disciplinary and found that it does meet the criteria established m CCR §3321 (c)(4) for reliability[.] Part of the information that was provided by the confidential source was proven to be true during the investigation of the incident

C. The CDCR 837 incident report SF2-08-06-0191 dated June 19, 2008 and issued to Inmate Daniels on August 26, 2008, indicates that Inmate Clark was battered with a weapon by Inmate O'neal[.] The 837 C's authored by Correctional Officers A. Lamb, F[.] Miata and B. Yoro all state that Inmate O'neal was observed attacking Inmate Clark. The SHO believes this to be evidence that Inmate O'neal assaulted Inmate Clark as a direct result of the threat he received from Inmate Daniels.

D. The CDCR 7219 Report of Injury or Unusual Occurrence shows that Inmate Clark sustained injuries consistent with that of being battered with a weapon. These injuries consisted of two puncture wounds to the upper back. The SHO believes this to be evidence that Inmate O'neal battered Inmate Clark with a weapon as a direct result of being threatened by Inmate Daniels.*fn4

II. GROUNDS PRESENTED/DEFENSES

In his Petition, Daniels raises two grounds: (1) that the denial of the right to call a witness violated his Sixth Amendment right; and (2) he was denied the right to view video tape evidence in violation of due process. Respondent does not raise any affirmative defense. Daniels appended to his Petition a paper entitled "Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus and Memorandum of Points and Authorities."*fn5 This paper appears to be a photocopy of the memorandum he submitted in the state-court proceedings, with two handwritten pages inserted between page 17 and 18, and one handwritten page inserted between page 19 and 20. In that paper Daniels addresses issues not raised as a ground in his Petition, e.g., use of the confidential informant and sufficiency of the evidence. The Court declines to address issues not raised in, or directly related to, the two grounds raised in the Petition.*fn6

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), this Court cannot grant relief unless the decision of the state court was "contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States" at the time the state court renders its decision or "was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding."*fn7 The Supreme Court has explained that "clearly established Federal law" in § 2254(d)(1) "refers to the holdings, as opposed to the dicta, of [the Supreme Court] as of the time of the relevant state-court decision."*fn8 The holding must also be intended to be binding upon the states; that is, the decision must be based upon constitutional grounds, not on the supervisory power of the Supreme Court over federal courts.*fn9 Thus, where holdings of the Supreme Court regarding the issue presented on habeas review are lacking, "it cannot be said that the state court 'unreasonabl[y] appli[ed] clearly established Federal law.'"*fn10 When a claim falls under the "unreasonable application" prong, a state court's application of Supreme Court precedent must be "objectively unreasonable," not just "incorrect or erroneous."*fn11 The Supreme Court has made clear that the objectively unreasonable standard is "a substantially higher threshold" than simply believing that the state-court determination was incorrect.*fn12 "[A]bsent a specific constitutional violation, federal habeas corpus review of trial error is limited to whether the error 'so infected the trial with unfairness as to make the resulting conviction a denial of due process.'"*fn13 In a federal habeas proceeding, the standard under which this Court must assess the prejudicial impact of constitutional error in a state court criminal trial is whether the error had a substantial and injurious effect or influence in determining the outcome.*fn14 Because state court judgments of conviction and sentence carry a presumption of finality and legality, the petitioner has the burden of showing by a preponderance of the evidence that he or she merits habeas relief.*fn15

The Supreme Court recently underscored the magnitude of the deference required: As amended by AEDPA, § 2254(d) stops short of imposing a complete bar on federal court relitigation of claims already rejected in state proceedings. Cf. Felker v. Turpin, 518 U.S. 651, 664, 116 S.Ct. 2333, 135 L.Ed.2d 827 (1996) (discussing AEDPA's "modified res judicata rule" under § 2244). It preserves authority to issue the writ in cases where there is no possibility fairminded jurists could disagree that the state court's decision conflicts with this Court's precedents. It goes no farther. Section 2254(d) reflects the view that habeas corpus is a "guard against extreme malfunctions in the state criminal justice systems," not a substitute for ordinary error correction through appeal. Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 332, n.5, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979) (Stevens, J., concurring in judgment). As a condition for obtaining habeas corpus from a federal court, a state prisoner must show that the state court's ruling on the claim being presented in federal court was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement.*fn16

In applying this standard, this Court reviews the "last reasoned decision" by the state court.*fn17 State appellate court decisions that summarily affirm a lower court's opinion without explanation are presumed to have adopted the reasoning of the lower court.*fn18 This Court gives the presumed decision of the state court the same AEDPA deference that it would give a reasoned decision of the state court.*fn19

Under California's unique habeas procedure, a prisoner who is denied habeas relief in the superior court files a new original petition for relief in the court of appeal. If denied relief by the court of appeal, the defendant has the option of either filing a new original petition for habeas relief or a petition for review of the court of appeal's denial in the California Supreme Court.*fn20

This is considered as the functional equivalent of the appeal process.*fn21 Under AEDPA, the state court's findings of fact are presumed to be correct unless the petitioner rebuts this presumption by clear and convincing evidence.*fn22 This presumption applies to state-trial courts and appellate courts alike.*fn23

To the extent that Daniels raises issues of the proper application of state law, they are beyond the purview of this Court in a federal habeas proceeding.*fn24 It is a fundamental precept of dual federalism that the states possess primary authority for defining and enforcing the criminal law.*fn25 "[A] state court's interpretation of state law, including one announced on direct appeal of the challenged conviction, binds a federal court sitting in habeas corpus."*fn26 A federal court errs if it interprets a state legal doctrine in a manner that directly conflicts with the state supreme court's interpretation of the law.*fn27 It does not matter that the state supreme court's statement of the law was dictum if it is perfectly clear and unambiguous.*fn28

A determination of state law by a state intermediate appellate court is also binding in a federal habeas action.*fn29 This is especially true where the highest court in the state has denied review of the lower court's decision.*fn30

A petitioner may not transform a state-law issue into a federal one by simply asserting a violation of due process.*fn31 "[The Supreme Court has] long recognized that a mere error of state law is not a denial of due process."*fn32 "[A]bsent a specific constitutional violation, federal habeas corpus review of trial error is limited to whether the error 'so infected the trial with unfairness as to make the resulting conviction a denial of due process.'"*fn33 "Federal courts hold no supervisory authority over state judicial proceedings and may intervene only to correct wrongs of constitutional dimension."*fn34 Thus, to the extent that Daniels' arguments rest upon an alleged violation of state law, statutory or regulatory, this Court declines to reach those arguments.

IV. DISCUSSION

Prison disciplinary proceedings are not part of a criminal prosecution; therefore, the full panoply of rights due to a defendant in such a proceeding does not apply.*fn35 In the context of prison disciplinary proceedings, the minimum requirements of due process are: (1) advance written notice of the charges brought against the inmate; (2) the right to call witnesses and present documentary evidence in his defense; (3) a written statement of the factfinder of the evidence relied on and the reasons for the disciplinary action taken,*fn36 and (4) the findings must be supported by some evidence in the record.*fn37 Inmates do not, however, have a right of confrontation and cross-examination.*fn38

The applicable constitutional standard by which federal habeas courts are bound in reviewing state prisoner disciplinary findings is whether "there is any evidence in the record that could support the conclusion reached by the disciplinary board."*fn39 This standard does not require that the court independently assess the credibility of the witnesses or re-weigh the evidence.*fn40

Because a prison disciplinary proceeding "is not comparable to a criminal conviction, . . . neither the amount of evidence necessary to support such a conviction . . . nor any other standard greater than some evidence applies in this context."*fn41

Even if the state did not follow the state's own procedure, that does not violate due process, as long as the prisoner is afforded process sufficient to meet the standard in Wolff.*fn42

Before disciplinary action resulting in the loss of good time may be taken, due process requires the prisoner be given: (1) written notice of the violation at least 24 hours in advance of appearance before the disciplinary hearing; (2) a written statement of fact finder as to evidence relied on and reason for disciplinary action taken, except that certain items of evidence may be excluded when personal or institutional safety would be implicated; and (3) the opportunity to call witnesses and present documentary evidence in defense when permitting the inmate to do so would not be unduly hazardous to institutional safety or correctional goals.*fn43

Ground 1: Violation of the Sixth Amendment

Daniels requested that J. O'Neal, the inmate whom Daniels allegedly threatened, be called as a witness. The SHO denied this request:

Request for Witnesses: Inmate Daniels requested to have Inmate O'neal, F-64041, present at the hearing as a witness. According to the CDC 115 being heard, Inmate Daniels is alleged to have threatened Inmate O'neal. If this information is correct, presenting Inmate O'neal as a witness could create a situation in which Inmate Daniels would have the opportunity to expound on his alleged threat. Furthermore, the SHO does not believe that Inmate O'neal would be able to provide any information that would vital to the hearing process. It is the opinion of the SHO that Inmate Daniels could not provide a demonstrable reason Inmate O'neal would aid in his defense. The SHO denied the request for Inmate O'neal to appear as a witness.*fn44

Daniels contends that he was found guilty without the opportunity to present favorable evidence due to the fact that the Investigative Employee assigned failed to contact the witness on Daniels' behalf, a violation of due process; alternatively Daniels contends that he was denied his right of confrontation. In his Memorandum of Points and Authorities, Daniels identifies the witness as being one J. O'Neal, the inmate Daniels allegedly threatened. In rejecting Daniels' claim, the Solano County Superior Court held:

The decision of the hearing officer is supported by some evidence in the record. (Superintendent v. Hill (1985) 472 U.S. 445, 447; ln re Zepeda (2006) 141 Cal.App.4th 1493, 1497.) In this case, a confidential informant revealed [Daniels] as being responsible for inmate O'Neil's attack of inmate Clark. The confidential source's reliability was established because part of the information provided by the source was proven to be true during the investigation of the incident. (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 15, § 13 3321(c)(4).) The senior hearing officer found the information to be sufficiently reliable. This is some evidence to support the finding of guilt. (Hill, 472 U.S. at p. 447; Zepeda, 141 Cal.App.4th at p. 1497.) In reviewing disciplinary decisions, courts do not examine the entire record, evaluate the credibility of witnesses, or reweigh the evidence. (Hill, 472 U.S. at p. 455.)

[Daniels] was properly charged with battery, not "conspiracy" to batter. California Code of Regulations § 3005 states that an inmate shall not threaten another with the use of force or violence, or urge another to use force or violence. (Cal. Code Regs., tit 15, § 3005(d).) The regulations clearly provide that an instigator of violence may be found guilty of the act of violence.

In terms of procedural due process, no law or regulation gives an inmate the right to question a confidential source, or any other witness, in camera. An inmate at a disciplinary hearing is not entitled to the full panoply of rights due to a criminal defendant. (Wolff v. McDonnell (1974) 418 U.S. 539, 566; In re Davis (1979) 25 Cal.3d 384, 391.)

With regard to [Daniels'] claim that he was improperly denied the opportunity to call inmate O'Neil as a witness, the record shows that the senior hearing officer determined that allowing O'Neil to appear as a witness might endanger his safety. (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 15, § 3315(e)(1)(A).) The hearing officer also decided that O'Neil would not be able to provide any information vital to the hearing. (Id at § 3315(e)(1)(B).) The denial of inmate O'Neil as a witness was thus justified.

As to [Daniels'] claim that he was denied the opportunity to present other witnesses, [Daniels] has not shown prejudice. (Chapman v. Califomia (1967) 386 U.S. n 18, 24; People v. Roldan (2005) 35 Cal. 4th 646, 735.) He does not state with specificity who he would call or show that further testimony could negate the confidential source's information that [Daniels] was involved. As such, [Daniels] has not shown that the denial of his requested witnesses changed the outcome of the hearing. . . . .

Finally, [Daniels'] claim that his investigative employee was deficient lacks merit. [Daniels'] qualm with his investigative employee's performance rests on the investigative employee's failure to procure inmate O'Neil as a witness (or other witnesses). As shown above, however, [Daniels] had no right to call a witness if it would threaten witness safety or if the witness had nothing pertinent to add.*fn45

The Supreme Court has made clear that the right of a prisoner to call, confront, or cross-examine witnesses in disciplinary proceeding is not co-extensive with that of the right of a criminal defendant in a criminal trial; indeed, it is severely circumscribed.*fn46 Nor has the Supreme Court held that a prisoner has the right to compel the attendance of witnesses.*fn47 Here, the SHO gave non-pre-textual reasons for denying Daniels' request to call O'Neal as a witness, and the Solano County Superior Court found those reasons to be sufficient. Clearly established Supreme Court law in the context of the right to call witnesses is sparse. Wolff and its progeny provide a general standard that gives state courts wide latitude for reasonable decision making under AEDPA.*fn48 That latitude is greater still in cases, such as this, where no decision of the Supreme Court has ever explained how the general rule applies.*fn49 Daniels did not make an offer of proof as to what O'Neal's testimony would be or how it would be helpful to his defense or claim that O'Neal was willing to testify on his behalf. Although prisoners have a constitutional right to "present" witnesses under Wolff, they have no right of confrontation or cross-examination.

In this case, it does not appear that Daniels sought to present O'Neal as a favorable defense witness, but rather, as means of confronting O'Neal and essentially cross-examining him, neither of which he has a constitutional right to do. Given the lack of Supreme Court holdings supporting Daniels on this issue,*fn50 this Court cannot find that the decision of the Solano County Superior Court was "contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States" at the time the state court rendered its decision or "was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding."*fn51 Daniels is not entitled to relief under his first ground.

Ground: 2: Denial of Right to Present Favorable Video Footage Daniels contends that he was denied the right to present video footage he contends was favorable to his defense. At the hearing, the SHO noted that "Videotape and photo evidence were not applicable for this hearing."*fn52 Daniels raised the issue of the failure to allow him to review the videotape in his administrative appeal. As stated in the Director's Level Decision, the Second Level Decision determined, as relevant to the videotape issue: "There is no video footage to review and there was no reference by the staff to a reference video and no video evidence was used against that appellant in the disciplinary process."*fn53 The Director's Level Decision itself did not directly address the question.

In denying Daniels relief on this ground, the Solano County Superior Court held:

In terms of [Daniels'] request for video and photo footage, the rules violation report states that no video or photo footage was relied on. Thus, [Daniels] cannot show that he was prejudiced in not receiving evidence that was not used. (Chapman, 386 U.S. at p. 24; Roldan, 35 Cal.4th at p. 735.)*fn54

In the informal response to Daniels' petition for habeas relief in the California Court of Appeal, the California Attorney General noted that "the rules violation report does not reflect that Daniels requested any sort of video or photographs as evidence at this hearing."*fn55 This Court's review of the record of the RVR proceedings does not reveal that at any point during the disciplinary proceedings before the SHO did Daniels request he be permitted to view a videotape, or that a videotape be received into evidence. The report of the Investigative Employee's interview of Daniels, however, indicates that Daniels said: "I want the confidential informant as a witness. Other witnesses I want are all the inmates involved. Mainly O'Neal since the threat was against him, and the yard camera."*fn56

Daniels contends that CSP-Solano has numerous surveillance cameras throughout the prison, both inside and out. Daniels further contends that, because videotape footage could have captured his presence roaming in the area where he supposedly met with O'Neal and the videotape would disprove the allegation that he met with O'Neal at the time and place alleged. Unfortunately for Daniels, his argument fails on at least two bases. First, while if he was in any videotape of the yard at the relevant time would prove Daniels presence, his absence from any video coverage of the yard, although evidence in Daniels' favor, does not necessarily prove he was not where he was alleged to be at the time alleged. The SHO could have given that fact little weight in accepting the contrary evidence of guilt.

Second, there is no evidence that such a videotape covering the area existed. There is no evidence that the entire yard, in particular the area where the conversation between Daniels and O'Neal allegedly occurred, was covered by a surveillance camera. While this Court agrees that the fact that the actual assault by O'Neal was captured on videotape as the record indicates raises a suspicion that the videotape Daniels sought possibly, even perhaps probably, existed, that is insufficient. The burden is on a habeas petitioner to prove by a preponderance of the evidence entitlement to relief; mere speculation, supposition or conjecture does not suffice.*fn57

V. CONCLUSION AND ORDER

Daniels is not entitled to relief on any ground raised in his Petition.

IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED THAT the Petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 for Writ of Habeas Corpus is DENIED.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED THAT the Court declines to issue a Certificate of Appealability.*fn58 Any further request for a Certificate of Appealability must be addressed to the Court of Appeals.*fn59

The Clerk of the Court is to enter judgment accordingly.

James K. Singleton, Jr.


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